I have been revising my Theoretical Perspectives on the Family syllabus (see the final product here). [Check out this post for tips on how to design your own interdisciplinary graduate seminars] In a given week, I only want to assign about four readings. But, given that I have to cover theory and substantive topics each week, four readings is always too few. Further, I don’t want the students only reading work from psychology, but also from sociology and economics, and even from communication, public health, anthropology, and law when appropriate. My courses therefore end up being a lot of work for students, and a lot of work for me in design.
Two principles that informed my design:
First, I spoke with a student last year who was talking with me about race discrimination and overall racial ignorance in her graduate program. One example she gave me was that in her classes, diversity was either ignored all together or relegated to a specific week in the semester. This was insulting as race and diversity issues touch every issue, every week. With this in mind, I tried to incorporate readings about marginalized families every week.
Second, all readings must be accessible online. I will only assign a reading that is not online if I have access to a pdf that I can post to our course management system. I do not want to contribute to grad student debt if at all possible.
Here is a list of theories and topics that I cover each week, and the readings I chose to represent them.
Introduction to the course. What is a fact? Historical changes and the American family. An introduction to theory
Cherlin, A. (2009). Why it’s hard to know when a fact is a fact.
Last week I posed the question “What information, tools, tasks, and activities could we provide to promote our graduate students’ learning, intellectual development, and achievement of their post-graduate school goals?” So, let’s start with the first part of that question – what information could we provide to promote our graduate students’ learning, intellectual development, and achievement of their post-graduate school goals?
There are several pieces of information, as well as ways to disseminate that information, that can promote graduate student success.
The first piece of information that comes to mind is the grad handbook. Our handbook now has several “tips” sections for students. We have 1) tips for success (i.e. meet with your advisor often; get to know your fellow grad students), 2) application tips (i.e. be yourself; proofread), and 3) tips for registering for courses (i.e. talk with your advisor; make it count). We also have advising best practices (from the OSU graduate school), including both graduate student responsibilities and graduate advisor responsibilities. Finally, the handbook includes guidelines for making reasonable progress through the program, including information about what reasonable progress may look like each year (i.e. first-year students will want to be involved in research and have a minimum 3.0 GPA; fourth-year students will want to have a first-authored conference presentation and complete their required coursework).
By having a detailed handbook with advice and tips, students can 1) plan a course of study that is going to foster success, and 2) use reasonable progress standards to set annual and long-term goals for themselves.
Designing syllabi for graduate courses is a lot of work, particularly when they are seminars, and particularly when you are in an interdisciplinary program. In an interdisciplinary program, you might want to teach a seminar on a topic, say intimate relationships, but may only know the research in the discipline (e.g. clinical psychology) you were trained in. This is one instance where crowd-sourcing can really help.
Here is my story. I teach a graduate course in family theory and research. There are several constellations of family relationships (i.e. couple relationships, sibling relationships, parent-child relationships, in-law, grandparent-grandchild, etc.), as well as several theories related to the study of families. Thus, putting together the syllabus for this course the first time was overwhelming.
I began by looking at a syllabus for a family theory/research course I enjoyed that I took in graduate school in HDFS at Penn State taught by Catherine Cohan, HDFS 525 for you Penn State HDFSers. Next, I googled “sociology of the family”, “economics of the family”, “family communication”, “family psychology”, and “family theory”, and variations on these, with the word syllabus to try to find syllabi that might be relevant. In writing this post, I looked back at my folder of syllabi, and I have several sociology, HDFS, economics, and psychology syllabi related to the family that I used to get ideas of what important readings I might want to include.
Next, I put together an initial draft. I circulated the initial draft among 12 faculty outside of my home institution and my colleagues at Ohio State. I sent the following message: